Slovakia’s government is one of the most consistent opponents of refugee resettlement within the European Union. While Prime Minister Robert Fico is not as overtly offensive to liberal sensibilities as Victor Orban in neighboring Hungary, he has nevertheless refused to take Slovakia’s mandatory EU quota of refugees for resettlement, opting instead to take only Christian refugees—and to sue the EU over the whole issue.
In Politico.eu, Davide Lerner has an interesting story on how this is playing in the Central European country:
L’uboš Blaha calls himself a Marxist philosopher. A rising star in Slovakia’s center-left Direction-Social Democracy party (SMER), Blaha has adorned his office with busts of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, and Karl Marx.
But when it comes to the European migration crisis, Blaha displays little of the international solidarity espoused by his idols. “If Slovakia is to partake in the burden sharing of refugees, then the rest of the European Union should take in some of our 500,000 Roma in exchange,” he says. […]
Fico was “brave and rightful” for defying the “acceptable discourse” says Blaha. “Marx’s greatest teaching is to always be realistic when it comes to problem-solving in politics,” he adds, glancing at a shelf-full of communist memorabilia and books penned by left-wing intellectuals. “You cannot have an open-door migration policy in a country where public opinion wants the exact opposite. Otherwise you’ll boost the fascists’ support!”
[…] Unlike Western European democracies with colonial histories, Slovakia has never been exposed to cultural exchanges with the rest of the world. “We are a small and ethnically homogeneous Christian nation,” Blaha says. “If multiculturalism is failing in places like Paris and Brussels, why should we try it here?”
Lerner then interviews a far-Right leader who reveres the dictator who worked with Hitler. But as the Marxist Blaha’s more surprising embrace of the tough-on-immigration policies points out, those policies are popular across a wide swathe of the Slovak voting public:
Ahead of general elections last March, 80 percent of the Slovak public said they were against accepting any migrants into the country. And in response to the rise in xenophobia — in March’s parliamentary election, the neo-fascist Kotleba party won 8.4 percent of the vote — the government has increasingly adopted the rhetoric or the far right.
There are two other contributing factors to Slovakian resistance to immigration that Lerner doesn’t dive into, however. Without them, you can’t fully understand refugee politics in Central Europe. The first is that Slovakian national identity, like those of its Visegrad neighbors, was in large part built during the multi-century struggle to keep the Ottoman Empire out of Europe. These areas were repeatedly invaded or occupied, with resistance and protracted religious wars forming the crucible of identity. “No Turks” (and by extension “no Muslims”) is the flip side of Blaha’s “small and ethnically homogeneous Christian nation.”
And the second is that Slovakia and its neighbors have only just (in historical terms) achieved nation-state status, after about 150 years of struggle. Consequently, they are much less ready or eager to give it up (or “transcend” it, depending on one’s point of view) than their Western neighbors.
The Slovaks, like the Czechs and most other East Europeans, value their membership in the European Union and their place in the fabric of the West as an important part of their identity, too, particularly after the Cold War. But that doesn’t mean they’ll cave on what they see as key lessons of history just to avoid some nasty looks and bitter comments in the corridors at Brussels.